Bradenton, Florida Charter School serves as a model for Florida and the Nation

In keeping with its mission to celebrate academics like America celebrates sports, Team Success charter school held an academic pep rally recently to commemorate its rise from an "F" school to an "A" school in just two years.

Serving about 300 students from kindergarten through 8th grade, Team Success was the only Title 1 school in Manatee County to earn an "A" grade from the Florida Department of Education.

"We are making history right here in Bradenton, Florida," said Fredrick Spence, CEO and principal of the charter school, speaking to the students, families and guests assembled in the packed school cafeteria. "We did it."

Spence credited the dedication of the teachers and staff, who stood on stage wearing Superman T-shirts, a reference to the "Waiting for Superman" documentary on the failures of the American public education system. He also recognized the hard work of the students, who were awarded $13,800 in cash for their performance on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) for the 2011-2012 academic year. Students received $50 to $150 for each passing score in Math, Science, Reading and Writing.

The cash awards were presented by Team Success Board President Dr. Doug Colkitt, a radiation oncologist, who donated the $13,800. "It's the best money I've spent all year," he told the assembly. Every student received a backpack monogrammed with an "A" and stuffed with school supplies and goodies donated by Alltrust Insurance.

The celebration also launched "The Year of the Repeat" theme, rallying teachers, staff and students to gear up for another "A" grade for the 2012-2013 academic year. Professional basketball player Udonis Johneal Haslem of the Miami Heat congratulated and encouraged the students in a pre-recorded video played at the celebration. Miami Heat, winner of the 2012 National Basketball Association championship, is also in its repeat year.

Team Success charter school was opened in 1997 by the Manatee County Sheriff's Office as the Police Athletic League Academy to serve students in at-risk neighborhoods threatened by gangs, drugs, violence and poverty. It is now independent of the Sheriff's Office. After years of dismal student test scores and consistent "F" ratings for the school, the board of directors was faced with shutting the school down or turning it around.

Enter Spence, a former Sarasota, Florida school administrator, who took charge of the charter school in 2007. Spence, who came up the ranks from high school physical education teacher and coach, had played football at Howard University in Washington, D.C., and earned his master's degree in Education Administration from Northeastern University in Chicago. He uses sports motivational techniques to inspire teachers and students.

Team Success demonstrates that contrary to popular opinion, Title 1 students can be successful, said Spence after the ceremony. "They should have the same expectations as any other population of students," he said. Title 1 schools are schools where at least 40 percent of the children are from low-income families and are eligible to receive federal funds for additional resources.

Cash awards for student performance may be controversial, but they are only part of an overall program geared toward motivating students to want to learn and achieve. While money is the carrot, the sense of pride and accomplishment is the reward, explained school director Aimiee Fleming. "It is our primary goal for our students to achieve at their highest level, and in order for them to be able to do so, we foster their intrinsic motivation," she said.

Students are tested throughout the year to make sure they are on track, including state and district mandated assessments, as well as three of Team Success school's own assessments.

Team Success also makes sure the students' needs are met so that they are ready to learn. Recently, the school partnered with the Elks Club to provide food backpacks for children to take home during the weekend. The school also partnered with Prevent Blindness Florida, a nonprofit organization, to pay for vision screenings and glasses. From school supplies to winter coats, the school finds a way to make sure no student is distracted from learning.

Team Success is located at 202 13th Avenue E., Bradenton, FL 34208. Telephone: (941) 714-7260 ext. 257. Website: www.teamsuccessschools.com.